renovating mondavi

Friday, October 30, 2009

I have watched in dismay as the corporate owners of the Robert Mondavi wineries have expanded, diluted and in my view diminished the value of that storied name. Not that it isn’t their legal right – they bought it all, lock, stock, barrels and trademark – but it would be nice to see some hint of stewardship. So far, I’ve seen none.

I raised the subject this week during a conversation with Peter Mondavi Jr., the son of Robert’s brother Peter. Peter’s branch of the Mondavi family motored along quietly over the decades, managing hundreds of acres of prime Napa valley vineyard, and churning out rather ordinary wines under two labels.

But in 1995, Peter Jr. recounted, a “pivotal point” was reached. He and his brother sat down determined to take over the reins from their (then) octogenarian father and “re-invent ourselves.”

the perfect score

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The December 1 issue of Wine Enthusiast, for whom I review wines, is now on the newsstands. For me, it marks an important milestone. In more than a decade of reviewing wines as a member of the magazine’s tasting panel, I have never given a wine a perfect score – 100 points.

riesling indeed does rule

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Nicolas Quillé, winemaker and general manager for Pacific Rim, the (almost) all riesling project headquartered in the Columbia valley, posted up some new stats from Nielsen on his Facebook page.

“Looking over the 13 weeks Nielsen data,” writes Quillé, “riesling is showing the fastest growth among all major varietals. Riesling is ahead of chardonnay, white zinfandel, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, syrah, zinfandel, pinot noir and sangiovese, growing at 8.2% versus last year. Now riesling is clearly a larger category than zinfandel (believe it or not) and I would not be surprised if within 6 months riesling takes over syrah. Riesling now represents 2.5% of all wine sold in the USA which is about twice what it was 3 years ago. Much deserved growth for a fantastic varietal.”

amazon wine bust

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Just about this time last year, I was contacted by Nate Glissmeyer, Amazon’s Category Manager for Wine, and Dini Rao, the Senior Account Manager for Wine Business Development. They wanted to pick my brain specifically about Washington wines.

I believe that the intent at the time was to do some trial marketing of wine online, using Washington wines as the test. Since Amazon is headquartered in Seattle, it seemed logical.

grazing in the bunchgrass

Monday, October 26, 2009

It is said that it takes two people to make great art – one to paint, and one to know when the painting is done. The same might be said of winemakers. When is enough, enough? When are the grapes ripe enough to pick? When have they been picked over and sorted enough? How much cold soak is enough?

peddling the medals

Friday, October 23, 2009

I doubt there is a day in the year that the average winery does not get hounded with a request to 1) donate their products to a “worthy” charity auction or 2) enter their products (for a generous fee) in a wine “competition.” Is any other industry so mercilessly badgered in this way?

spring valley vineyard

Thursday, October 22, 2009

My home in Waitsburg is just 16 miles north of Walla Walla, yet it feels like a different world. It’s in the Touchet (TWO-shee) valley, not the Walla Walla valley, and it’s wheat country, not wine country. The closest vineyard is six miles south as the crow flies, and belongs to the Corkrum/Derby family, who have farmed wheat at their Spring Valley ranch for over a century.

In 1993 they planted two acres of merlot, a successful experiment which quickly grew to include 40+ acres of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot, malbec and syrah. Almost immediately Spring Valley grapes were in demand, going to Cadence, Walla Walla Vintners, Reininger and Tamarack among others. Sparked by the interest being shown, an estate winery was launched, with the introduction of a merlot-dominated Bordeaux blend named Uriah in honor of Shari Corkrum Derby’s grandfather, whose photograph is on the label.

typicity - part two

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In Washington, there are some very good wines that are blends of many grapes, vineyards, and AVAs. Wines such as Pirouette (from Long Shadows) and Col Solare (from Ste. Michelle/Antinori) are examples of delicious red blends sourced from multiple AVAs. But if they can be criticized, it is a lack of typicity that bothers me about them both. They are very well-made, delicious wines, but what do they tell me about Washington, other than you can schmoosh things together and if you know how to do it you’ll make a pretty good wine? But we’re not going to discover our Rutherford Bench that way.

typicity - part one

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The French, as is often the case with all things vinous, have a useful word that almost, but not quite, translates into equivalent English. Typicity, in English, is more commonly used in the sense of typical – something that is ordinary, unremarkable, similar to many others. Typicité, in French, suggests more.

From Wikipedia: “Typicity (French typicité, Italian tipicità) is a term in wine tasting used to describe the degree to which a wine reflects its varietal origins, and thus demonstrates the signature characteristics of the grape from which it was produced, i.e., how much a merlot wine tastes like a merlot. It is an important component in judging wine competition when wines of the same varietal are judged against each other.

food for thought

Monday, October 19, 2009

Don’t worry – I’m not going to re-launch my full-blown rant about the faux “objectivity” of blind tastings. I am going to continue to peck away at the notion that somehow tasting a flight of wines blind is a more rational and fair way to award scores and ratings. My one-word rebuttal to that deeply entrenched falsehood is “context”!

Context, mes amis, is what gives any work of art its importance. Context references such things as timing, influences, sources, past work, peer work, and marketplace conditions. When reviewing wines for publication, which often requires scoring them on the 100-point scale, I want to give these new offerings the very best opportunity to shine. Which means putting them in context.

friday follies

Friday, October 16, 2009

It’s never dull in the wine world. Here are some highlights from the past week.

1) Greatest Vintage of All Time!

I do not subscribe to e-Parker (why should I pay good money for access to a sycophantic board that periodically crucifies me?) but a friend has passed along this fascinating link. Apparently, Big P has put out an e-blast to the faithful with this astonishing claim:

full disclosure

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New FTC rules for bloggers have brought the concept of full disclosure into the foreground. Beginning in December, those who blog or Tweet online product reviews must acknowledge whether they have been gifted samples or paid for items they review.

blog jam

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In recent months a lively – at times caustic – debate has been taking place online, regarding the sea change that is impacting wine criticism and journalism. It’s easy to call it a generational phenomenon, but it’s not. Bloggers, myself included, can certainly come from traditional backgrounds in print journalism. In my case, it’s not just print, but also broadcast (radio and television) and online media that have long been part of my personal work portfolio.

mea gulpa

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I was taken to task by a reader who did not agree with my response (in a recent newspaper column) to a question about aging red wines. The question was this: "How long is it safe to keep red wine? I know one can keep them many years, but how about less expensive wines?"

My answer was that "most inexpensive (under $15) red wines are made to be enjoyed immediately. Unless you are buying pricey wines that are meant to be cellared, there is little point in holding on to any wine for more than a year or two."

global venting

Monday, October 12, 2009

The headline in the Seattle Times seemed innocent enough to me. It read: “Puget Sound area emerging as wine region, thanks to warmer climate.” The sub-head continued: “A small explosion of new Western Washington wine-grape growers appears to be capitalizing on climate shifts that are redrawing the global wine-growing map.”

my day in airport hell

Friday, October 09, 2009

The worst airplane day of my life? That would be yesterday. And it wasn’t actually the flight itself that was the problem. It was the preamble and postscript.

best of the okanagan

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The official judging for the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival wrapped up yesterday, and for the first and only time, all eight judges sat together and tasted. In the days preceding, we’d tasted in panels of four – an inconvenient number, which required at least three of the four to vote for a medal in order for a wine to be awarded.

remembering david lake

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Thirty years ago, with the 1979 harvest in full swing, David Lake moved to Washington state to take over the winemaking duties at Associated Vintners. It was a difficult assignment: there had been a deep freeze the previous winter, and many vineyards were frozen out completely and had to be replanted.

into the great unknown

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The first flight of yesterday’s judging was a doozy. Two auxerrois, one Bacchus, two Kerners, three chenin blancs, a sémillon, three ehrenfelsers, a pair of siegerrebes, a Sovereign Opal, and a vidal. Hello! You have maybe 20 minutes to taste through them, decide if they are no medal, bronze medal, silver medal, or gold medal, and cast your vote. The four votes are tallied, we look at the totals, and compute medals.

o canada

Monday, October 05, 2009

In Canada, they know how to do a great wine festival. Here in the Okanagan, they do four a year – spring, summer, fall and winter – and each is loaded with events.

rough justice

Friday, October 02, 2009

Rough Justice is a very popular, non-vintage red blend from Spokane’s Barrister winery. The owners – Greg Lipsker and Michael White – have morphed into the wine business from careers in law. Their first wines, from the 2001 vintage, were introduced at Taste Washington in 2003. A three-story brick warehouse in Spokane’s Davenport Arts District has been fashioned into an attractive winery, tasting room, and barrel storage facility, and tonight, along with the beguiling smells of fermentation, there will be a First Friday artist reception and live acoustic music.

w/e best buys of 2009

Thursday, October 01, 2009

For more than a decade, I have been the designated Pacific Northwest wine reviewer for Wine Enthusiast magazine. As with my colleagues Steve Heimoff (California), Roger Voss (France/Europe), Monica Larner (Italy), and Michael Schachner (South America/Spain), I am given virtual carte blanche to select, taste, score and review the wines from my region. It is a privileged position, and I am forever grateful to the magazine’s publisher and editors for the trust they have placed in my abilities.